Viva la Cuba- Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

  • Understand under which provision you will be traveling to Cuba. Technically, tourism from the United States is still banned, and your travel reason must fall under one of the 12 provisions. You can find them here
  • Obtain a visa. A visa and Cuban health insurance is required for all travel to Cuba from the United States. Many if not all U.S. based airlines include the cost of the health insurance in your flight. Many also offer you the ability to obtain a visa directly from the airline for a fee. JetBlue charged $50 and was available during check-in. American Airlines visa is $100. Check with your preferred airline regarding the Visa process well before you are set to leave. You can also obtain a Cuban visa via the Cuban Embassy and other organizations, but it will likely be easier and cheaper to just book with an airline that includes the visa as part of the process. Be sure to fill out your visa slowly, if you make a mistake you will have to pay again for a new one!
  • DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT put anything regarding Cuba in the memo field of any of your money sending/transferring apps, such as PayPal, Cash app, Chase Quick Pay, etc. This means no 'Cuba', 'Havana', 'viva la Cuba', etc. Once again the embargo is still in place and financial institutions will flag and freeze your accounts leaving that money in limbo for an indeterminate amount of time. In addition, while in Cuba do NOT log into your banking applications. This also will cause a flag to be raised on your account.
  • Carry cash. ALL cash. I have seen many posts of people stranded in Cuba assuming they can use their Debit and Credit Cards. American credit and debit cards do not work in Cuba due to the embargo. Stack up your cash and exchange it to Euros at the lowest rate you can find. If you wait and take USD to Cuba you will get charged a 10% tax on top of the exchange rate. That makes it about .87 USD to 1.00 CUC, which is the currency for Cubans and visitors. Cuba also uses CUP, but this currency is reserved for locals. So be sure to request CUC at the airport exchange. Also, get some small bills so for bathroom attendants and collectivo taxis.


  • Download Google Translate and then download the Spanish pack for offline use. This is key. You must download it for offline use. Then put your phone in airplane mode and test it out. This was extremely helpful with communicating with the two lovely ladies who made breakfast in the morning. It allowed me to both translate to Spanish on screen as well as audio.
  • Download the app. Then download the Havana, Cuba map for offline use. This is also another priceless tip! This app really allowed me to walk and explore the city confidently. I saved a lot of money on taxis by just walking. Pack your sneakers Havana is a walking city. In addition, a lot of the roads, especially in Old Havana are old with a lot of dog feces around.
  • Book your lodging. There are hotels in Havana, however not nearly as many as you would hope. I strongly suggest staying at a Casa Particular. These are government endorsed family homes where you are able to rent a room. They often have a Casa Particular sign outside. Airbnb is pretty popular in Cuba, so if that is your preference it is fine to look for housing on there. I used Homestay, which unlike Airbnb, allows you to just put a small deposit/booking fee down to reserve your room. I was very hesitant, as I hadn’t known anyone to use the site before. But I booked an affordable room for about 40 CUC per night in Old Havana. It included a light breakfast, private bathroom and air conditioning. I definitely recommend it! The only downside was that it was on the fourth floor. I got a great work out every day. Here is the apartment I stayed in, in Old Havana.
  • Wi-Fi is scarce, embrace the lack of Internet. You can buy Wi-Fi cards for roughly 5-10 CUC in the airport for varying amounts of airtime. Wherever you see a large group of people gathering, it usually means Wi-Fi is present. This often happens in park areas, squares, etc. I only used Wi-Fi once to let family know I was fine. I really enjoyed the time off the grid. But if you do use the Wi-Fi be sure to log out to save your minutes!
  • There is a wide range of opinions on whether or not you should bring gifts or donations. Do as your heart desires! While the Cuban people do not have the same amenities we are accustomed to it is not necessarily an indication of their quality of life. Do your own research and decide from there.
  • Taxis might be one of your biggest expenses in Cuba. Take the time to map out where you want to go to see if you could walk there. There are also ‘collectivos’ which are shared taxis. These are by far the most affordable way to travel. But unless you are a local it can be quite a daunting task. These taxis operate on a set route and charge about 3 CUC per passenger. Other regular taxis will cost much more. Be sure to negotiate before getting in the taxi. There are government run taxis and then there are private taxis. The government run taxis will have a more set and affordable rate.


  • Food. Let’s talk about it. Be very patient and do your research. Look up to see what the popular restaurants are. If possible get your host to make reservations for you. Cuba is no stranger to food shortages, menu changes, etc. I stuck with seafood and pork almost the entire trip and did not have a single bad meal! I also found the food seasoned very well, which I was concerned about based on reviews of others who went. I would suggest not drinking the tap water, and carrying bottled water with you at all times.  I drank plenty of 3 CUC Mojitos (which were the best I ever had by the way) and I was not concerned about the ice. My stomach was fine upon my return, but I do know there were some instances of people getting a slight case of travelers’ diarrhea, which is common when traveling to new countries. If you have a sensitive stomach carry Pepto bismol, probiotics and oregano oil as preventative measures.
  • Drones are not allowed. They have the right to confiscate them. You've been warned.
  • Lastly, do your research. There is plenty to do and see. Bring back some Cuban cigars, coffee, honey and rum. Be open to change. Unplug and enjoy Cuba for who she is, and not what you want her to be!

Is there anything I left off? Or would you like to more tips about what to do and see while you are in Cuba? Respond in the comments and let me know.